Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving

 

Memories of “over the river and through the woods.”

Of dinner’s at grandmother’s house,

Where we had to go for long walks to work off all the food.

Of mom’s turkey stuffing, and cranberry dressing and a big drumstick on my plate.

Men cleaning up in the kitchen afterwards, hand washing mountains of dishes,

and then gathering around to find out how badly the Lions would lose this year.

 

Memories of later years of dinners at the Timberlanes,

Of three hours, sometimes stretching to four or five in traffic,

All worth it to see loved ones once again,

and to give thanks for one more year of having them in our lives.

 

Those years have passed, as have those loved ones,

We still gather with family and friends,

No longer the youngest, nor yet the eldest,

but increasingly aware of the blessings of life, and health, and friends.

 

To remember opens one up to the fleeting character of our lives,

And yet also to the goodness of that life in all its brevity.

Family recipes and shared stories,

Delicious smells and inside jokes,

Grandpa nodding off while the children play, quarrel, and make up,

A tear for grandma who is no longer with us,

News of a baby on the way.

 

For a day we set the world’s troubles aside,

for the goodness of turkey and dressing,

pumpkin or sweet potato pie.

Shared in a circle of love.

 

Thanksgiving

 

Goodbye Charlie

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Charlie Rose interviews Barack Obama, 2013. Photo by Pete Souza — White House, Public Domain via Wikipedia

There may be some who remember this as the title of a somewhat strange 1964 comedy in which Charlie (Tony Curtis), a womanizer, is shot “in the act” with another man’s wife only to be reincarnated as a woman (Debbie Reynolds). For most of us though, “Goodbye Charlie” is what many of us are saying as we learned Monday of the latest set of accusations of sexual impropriety against talk show host and journalist, Charlie Rose.

This one hit me hard. I always thought of Rose as one of the good guys, hosting at his table some of the most fascinating conversations one could find on television. Everyone from Broadway stars to religious figures to political and thought leaders sat at his table, and he unerringly seemed to draw out of them the very best they had to offer. As of Tuesday, it appears it is goodbye for good as both CBS and PBS have terminated their contracts with Rose.

While I wish this were not so, I fully support these actions. Termination of employment is one of the possible consequences of sexual harassment in the organization I work for and as a director in that organization, I have responsibilities to take complaints seriously and to adhere to our organization’s procedures to investigate complaints and take appropriate corrective action. Similar policies are on the books in most organizations and there are both moral and legal obligations for leaders of those organizations. Yet until recently, many thought they could sweep such obligations under the carpet or ignore them. Only as women have found and joined their voices in collective action has it become clear that such complaints cannot be ignored, even or especially by the rich and powerful.

But someone may say, “this is such a talented person who cannot be replaced.” Some might pity Rose because he is out of at least a couple very lucrative jobs. I suspect Rose has a fortune that easily will secure him for the rest of his life. The greater loss for him is losing the chance to do something he has said he deeply loves.

That is what has been happening to sexually harassed women in the workplace for years. Many had jobs they loved, for which they were highly trained. Due to sexual harassment and the lack of complaints being taken seriously, for many, the only alternative (other than giving in or living with the harassment) was to leave. I’ve known of women devastated by this experience, some who sacrificed careers they loved and significant income to escape harassment. Sadly, this behavior is so pervasive that often women had no good place to escape to.

The difference between Rose and these women? One is without a job because of what he did, his use of position and power to sexually impose on women. The others are without jobs or have had to find other employment through no fault of their own, but only to escape situations that were personally threatening. So, while saddened by Rose’s actions, and their consequences, I would much rather have him off the air than for women to be unsafe in their workplaces. My hope is that this will serve as a wake up call for men everywhere that similar harassment or sexual imposition is wrong. Period. [And yes, I know that women may also harass or create threatening environments, which is equally wrong, albeit much more rare.]

Rose’s “sort of” apology evidences the self-justifications men must face about their behavior. He said, “I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.” The most revealing phrase here is “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings….” Men often justify efforts to sexually impose on women with the idea that “she wanted it” or “she liked it.” Besides the fact that Rose’s statement is oblivious to the power dynamics in such incidents, he also ignores the simple realities that only “yes” means “yes” and “no” means “no.”

Rose, along with a number of others in recent weeks, has been made an example of the consequences of the misuse of power to sexually harass or exploit women. Rose strikes me as someone with great empathy and emotional intelligence. I hope he turns this in the coming months to understanding what was really so wrong about his actions, and perhaps the wellsprings in his own life for why he acted as he did. I hope he won’t turn to further self-justification. My hope is that the day will come when he will be a different kind of example — one of a guy who finally “gets” it.

 

 

Review: The Way of Hope

the way of hope

The Way of HopeMelissa Fisher. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: Through a narrative of her own experiences, the author proposes ways in which the church might offer hope to LGBT persons without condemning or condoning.

“I used to want to be a boy.

Seriously, literally, have the surgery. Change the name. Live from the new identity. Be a boy, not a girl. That’s what I wanted.

It seemed to make sense with how I felt on the inside. At that point in my life, my feelings had been all over the map. After all, I grew up in the church, left the church, dated boys, then left the guy scene and ended up in the same-sex lifestyle, and a same-sex marriage. Somewhere, in the midst of all of that, I contemplated becoming a boy.”

This is Melissa Fisher’s introduction to her life journey. It is one that begins with a response to shame of perfectionism–“pretty is as pretty does.” She learns to keep secrets, about witnessing her mom’s affair, about sexual abuse both as a child and as an adult, about the pain of her parents divorce, about discovering pornography, and more. She describes the “monster” of dating guys and then falling in live with one of her girlfriends, the struggle to deny her attraction to women, her attempts to medicate herself against her struggles, and her surrender to them. She marries a woman, has what seems an ideal life as an athletic coach, and then comes to an end of herself when she loses it all in an impulsive affair. On a car trip near the Arkansas border, she stops in tears and comes to the realization that even though she doesn’t want God or church in her life, she does.

She describes her struggle to even show up at church, and eventually a small group, which is important for any church to understand that is committed to ministering with LGBT persons. She finds one, Gateway Church in Austin, a church that was committed to a ministry that neither condemned nor condoned around issues of sexuality, but loved people and allowed them the space to struggle and take steps at their own pace toward God. They offered community to the isolated. She narrates her steps to believe that first one woman, Karin, really wanted a friendship with her, and then that she could be part of a community of PBM’s (Pottery Barn Moms).

Later chapters chronicle the further work of coming to terms with her past, her perfectionism, her secrets and shame, and all her strategies of dealing with these, including her drive to perform could be laid aside as she learned to behold and believe in Christ, and allow him to shape the way she lived. She writes, “if I never felt safe enough to be a girl, I would never feel safe enough to do the more work needed to become a healthy woman.” Yet as she did so, she found herself opening up to the possibility of being with a man (although she is careful to not make herself a norm or example for others). Like several other LGBT writers like Greg Cole or Wesley Hill, she talks about all this in day by day terms of trusting God in this day.

The epilogue is fascinating because it includes interviews with her mother, her father, and her former spouse, Kristi. Life isn’t all put together in any of these situations, but there was really healing, and real reconciliation. What is striking throughout the narrative of this book is Melissa’s honesty about herself, whether she was exulting in a same sex marriage with Kristi, or struggling to put life together. Equally striking was the church she found and the loving way they cared for people like Melissa, neither condoning their choices nor condemning them, but loving them, and providing a space where they could encounter and behold Christ, where they could be as honest as they were ready to be, and where change was something that was not enforced from on high or by social pressure, but allowed to occur from within if and when the person was ready.

Others who identify as LGBT may not struggle with their orientation or identity and may be critical of Fisher’s narrative, and may contend that she is self-deceived. Perhaps the practice of a kind of golden rule here may help in honoring the narratives of others as you would have them honor yours. She joins a growing number who tell a similar story, and of churches that have made a safe and good place for them. Perhaps rather than arguing with them, we might learn from them, whether we agree or not.  Perhaps even this may be a first step on the way of hope…

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Life in the Presence of God

Life in the Presence of God

Life in the Presence of GodKenneth Boa. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: A contemporary discussion of the idea that a vital Christian life is one increasingly lived on a moment by moment basis in the presence of God.

So what exactly is an authentic Christian life? A set of activities or practices does not quite seem enough. Nor is adherence to a set of beliefs. Kenneth Boa, in this book, joins generations of Christians in proposing that a vital Christian life is led increasingly in the moment by moment presence of God. In his introduction, he frames it this way:

“Sure, it’s good to give the first–or the last–moments of our day to God. But what about the rest of the day? It’s so easy for our hearts and heads to end up somewhere else. Is that how God really wants us to live? Is that what he really had in mind when he said he’d give us abundant life (John 10:10)?

I’m proposing that we take our life with God–and our awareness of his presence–with us everywhere, not just into our quiet times but into our noisy times too, incorporating practices into our lives that help us keep that awareness right in front of us, throughout the day, every day.”

Boa’s book is divided into two parts. The first explores the biblical basis of this idea. This wasn’t thought up by Brother Lawrence, but rooted in the reality of what it means to be in Christ. Boa explores the biblical images, biblical exemplars culminating in Christ, and the image of “walking” with God that runs through scripture.

The second part turns to how we may learn to practice God’s presence. Here he does commend Brother Lawrence, the experiment of Frank Laubach and other practices of learning increasingly to abide moment by moment in Christ. Boa points to modern neuroscience’s understanding of the plasticity of our brains and how they may be re-wired through repeated practice. This also involves learning to re-see our world, specifically that we see that all of it matters to God and seeing it in the light of eternity. How we see our time is critical, especially in an age of busy-ness. Taking time to surrender our days to God in our waking moments, finding time to recollect ourselves through the day, and to conclude our days in thanksgiving and reflection are all important as well as establishing rhythms of work, rest, and sabbath.

Suffering and sin are also realities that intrude upon our lives. In suffering, we learn both to lament and to walk in God’s presence in the way of the cross. In sin, growth in experiencing God’s presence means learning to recognize the stages of temptation (a section that was worth the price of the book for me!) and to quickly confess and repent.

The book concludes with two chapters that focus on our visions of community and of the well-lived life.  While we can have unhealthy notions of community, which Boa discusses, good communities practice encouragement that leads to growth, accountability, and living the gospel with “one another” in communities where good soul care is practiced. Finally, to live in God’s presence is to become who we were meant to be–to live into our calling–even as Strider the Ranger must become Aragorn the King in Lord of the Rings. To be in the Lord’s presence is to live with a different vision of the “good life” centered around a vision of eternity.

Each chapter concludes with practical exercises that help us hear God’s Word and to practice his presence. It is the practical element, combined with good biblical grounding and Boa’s own experience, that makes this book so helpful whether you are a recent convert or a lifelong believer. Boa focuses his attention on the everyday in our lives, which in fact make up most of life. To live in God’s presence here is to discover God’s presence in all of our lives from the seemingly mundane to the moments of crisis. And to live in God’s presence is to take creatures rooted in time, and help them live in the light of eternity. Could anything be more important?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The “Foster” in Fosterville

Foster Farm and Coal Operation

Foster farm and Foster Coal, scanned from Titus, Simmons, and Titus Atlas of Mahoning County, Ohio

When I was in elementary school, I used to spend several weeks in the summer with my grandparents who lived on Cohasset Drive off of Glenwood. One of the fun things we used to do was go over to Fosterville, particularly to go to matinees at the Foster theater. In later years, Mr. Paul’s Bakery was the place to go for baked goods and cakes for nearly every occasion, including weddings.

When I wrote last week about coal mining in Youngstown, I discovered who the Foster was in “Fosterville.” His name was Colonel Lemuel Talcott Foster and his family moved to the Youngstown area in 1825, when he was ten months old. He grew up working in his father Jonas sawmill and on his farm. He was also a boyhood friend of William McKinley, a friendship that lasted the rest of McKinley’s life.

During the Civil War he organized the First Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Calvary and was elected Colonel. He was involved in a number of engagements including the taking of Island No. 10 at Vicksburg. He also recruited effectively for what were then called the “colored” regiments.

Returning from the war, he devoted his energies to developing the three hundred acres he had acquired located where present day Indianola Avenue and Canfield Road meet Glenwood Avenue. He raised shorthorn cattle, there are records that he was a horse breeder, and he farmed. But perhaps what he was most known for was the Foster Coal Company and the high quality coal in the two mines on his property. The coal even won a gold medal at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

His first wife bore a name also familiar in the nearby area. He and Florence Lanterman were married in March of 1869 and had two children before she passed in 1873. He married again in 1878 to Susannah B. Alexander.

As a business and civic leader he was a friend of politicians and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1878 and 1880, and for state senator in 1891. He also served as a Justice of the Peace for nine years and for six years as a township trustee.

Foster witnessed the beginning of the transition of the area from farming and mining to a residential area. The last mine closed in 1915. In the early 1890’s, when Volney Rogers was engaged in the creation of Mill Creek Park, he donated a twenty acre tract of land to the park. In 1895 the Youngstown Park and Fall Street Railway company was formed providing trolley service from downtown to a terminus in the Fosterville area in what would become Idora Park, which was situated at the end of the trolley line.

I have not been able to find any evidence of Foster’s involvement in either the Railway or Idora Park. I wonder if he was more focused on the enterprises on his own property including his spacious home. He possessed one of the largest personal libraries in the area with over 2,500 volumes. He passed away on September 7, 1911.

And now you know how Fosterville got its name.

Waking and Sleeping

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By Dr.K. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve come to think of those first and last moments of consciousness, before I rise in the morning, and before I drift off to sleep, as important bookends of my day. Too easily, I pick up the phone at the beginning of the day to check the news. Too easily, I end the day drifting off to sleep mid-sentence in whatever I’m reading.

So I’ve started two simple practices:

  1. When I awaken, before I do anything else besides shut off the alarm, I lay still and give thanks for God’s protection through the night and offer him myself and my day, including the specifics of it I know as well as all the things that will occur about which I don’t.
  2. And before I go to bed, rather than read, I simply take the last moments of consciousness to review the day, to thank God for all his mercies, to offer anything up that remains undone even though I am for the day, and to trust myself to his care.

I’ve been thinking more of late of how much of my days I go through without consciously being aware of God. I still find myself far from the Apostle Paul’s “praying without ceasing.” Sometimes perhaps, it is just a brain that finds it hard to be engaged both with the matters of the moment and to engage with God. But I suspect there are deeper habits of being that play into all this.

For now at least, I want to get the bookends in place. Then, perhaps, I can work on what is between them.

 

Could One Be Both Spiritual and Religious?

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By Sebd – Own work, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

For some time now, I’ve noted the growing distinction between being spiritual and being religious, including this recent Vox article noting that at least one in five Americans identify as “spiritual.”. Like so many things, this is framed as a binary–you are either one or the other, and increasingly the choice is “spiritual.” It is true, as the article notes, that many who identify as spiritual maintain some religious affiliation, but participate much less in the religious observances of that tradition, and do not find “religion” as meaningful in their lives.

Those who are “spiritual” describe some kind of sense of a higher power and connectedness to the world, often experiencing spiritual experience in art, nature, music, personal rituals like yoga. It’s striking to me how importance beauty is in this contemporary spirituality. It seems that for many, their experience with formal religion was one laced with ugliness–rigid uniformity of belief or practice, hypocrisy, or simply dullness.

What I find interesting in all this is that I’ve never felt I had to make a choice. I am religious in the sense of worshiping weekly with a community that I’ve been a part of for twenty-seven years. We break bread together, sing together, wrestle together in figuring out how to apply the teachings of the Bible in our daily lives, and serve together. It’s not been perfect, because none of us in this community is perfect. We’ve fought, we’ve differed, we’ve sometimes parted. But we’ve prayed for the sick and brought in meals, we’ve fed the hungry, helped needy schoolchildren with lunches during the summer and school supplies. All of this is “religious” in the sense of being “bound” (from which the word religion derives, related to the word “ligament”) to a group of people with whom I share beliefs, practices, and life, and to the God we worship together.

I’m also “spiritual” in some of the senses described in this article. I believe we encounter God in everything from the very ordinary practices of brushing our teeth and caring for our homes to creating a painting or singing “Messiah” or other transcendently beautiful pieces of music. I find wonder in the creation, whether in the coneflowers in my own garden, or the particular beauties of oceans, forests, and mountains.

At the same time, my “religion” nourishes and enriches my spirituality. As Dorothy Sayers once asserted, “the dogma is the drama.” My faith tells me that the beauty I rejoice in in the world is the artistry of a Master, and that it would be folly to worship the artistry instead of the Artist. My faith doesn’t just tell me to love people in general but binds me in a particular community, challenging me to lean into the hard work of loving real people who stubbornly remain themselves and not the people I want them to be. My faith faces me with the ugliness of my sin and all the ways I deceive myself into thinking I’m better than I am, and shows me the way to forgiveness, and what I might become through grace.

I’ve also come to appreciate the specificity of the things my faith tells me about my God who is not a vague “higher power” but a personal being. I love and care about words, and it makes eminent sense that a personal being might be able to communicate God’s self in words as well, as the source of our own communicative abilities. And with this is the capacity for real relationship, and one that, perhaps even more than in human relationships, I cannot simply conform to my wishes.

In the end, the religious ties that “bind” me actually free me to engage with a God to whom I may speak freely or be silent and who I cannot make in my image. I am freed to be in a community where I have a group of people to whom I belong. I am freed to tend and serve a world of beauty. All the beauties and transcendent experiences of life make greater sense in pointing to a reality of which our present day is but a glimmer.

So, if a pollster asks me whether I would define myself as “spiritual” or “religious” I guess I would just have to say “yes.” I’ve never felt I had to choose, and I’m not about to start.

Review: Paul Behaving Badly

paul behaving badly

Paul Behaving BadlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: Takes on the charge that there are many problems with Paul, among which that he is racist, pro-slavery, anti-woman, homophobic, and hypocritical, and suggests that while he behaves badly, it may be in different ways than we might think.

This is the third in a series of “behaving badly” books, the previous titles of which are God Behaving Badly (reviewed here), and Jesus Behaving Badly (reviewed here). As in the previous works, the authors take some of the common objections raised about Paul in a way that both takes the objections seriously, and shows through careful study of the biblical text and cultural context what may and may not be warranted in these objections.

The authors show that Paul indeed behaves badly, but not in the way one might think. While not coming out against slavery, his affirmation of slaves as brothers and sisters and his instructions to masters were quite counter-cultural and would have raised great objections. While he seems at points to make racist comments, he in fact made ground-breaking strides to build bridges to the Gentile world, and that any apparent anti-Semitism was really directed to a very specific group of Judeans (“Jews” in the narrowest sense) who tried to impose circumcision and legal observance on the Gentile churches Paul and his team had planted.

Their treatment of women and homosexuality are perhaps the chapters to which many will first turn. While I would have liked to see more of a treatment of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, which the authors leave open to differing interpretations on the matter of women teaching, they observe the radical ways in which Paul elevated women as ministry partners, in how they were to be treated by husbands, and the very fact that they were permitted to learn. Likewise, while the authors clearly see Paul speaking against same sex relationships, they are careful to point out that Paul recognizes that persons who have been involved in these relationships are in the church, and contrary to Jewish practice, neither requires their expulsion nor execution. They also observe the difference between contemporary focus on orientation to focus on specific acts between people, and in some passages, between those who penetrate, and are penetrated, which may often be the case in master-slave relationships, particularly between masters and boy slaves in the Roman context. In summary, they write:

“When Paul denounced homosexual practice both for the active as well as the passive partner, he was behaving badly in Roman eyes. But when he welcomed both into the church as sinners in need of a savior (like the rest of us), he was behaving badly in Jewish eyes. Paul did indeed behave badly in the eyes of his culture and sometimes in the eyes of other Christians” (p. 195).

The book also addresses criticisms that Paul was a killjoy, eliminating pleasure wherever he found it. They take on the charge that Paul was a hypocrite, as in the example of circumcision, where he takes a strong stand against it, and then circumcises Timothy (in this case the answer seems to be Timothy’s partially Jewish heritage, where to not be circumcised would be a repudiation of that heritage, and an obstacle to mission in Jewish circles).

Finally, the authors deal with how Paul handles scripture, which to modern eyes often seems to be a twisting of scripture. They show, rather, that Paul was using the accepted interpretive approaches of his time–literal, midrash, allegory, and pesher among them, that would not have raised the eyebrows of his Jewish listeners.

What I most appreciated is that this is not a whitewash on Paul. The authors observe how he could be stubborn, as when he resisted prophetic counsel that he not go to Jerusalem. We should not put him on a pedestal, though we may learn from him, such as how he avoided financial entanglements, and for his courage in “behaving badly” by going counter to culture in the cause of Christ, sometimes at great personal and physical cost.

This can be a helpful book if you have a hard time reading the Pauline works, or know friends who object to Paul. We tend to see Paul through our own cultural lenses and this work helps us see Paul in his own context, and goes beyond particular verses to the whole character of Paul’s work. No alabaster saint here, but rather a very human person, whose indeed “behaved badly” at times, but in ways that we may end up admiring rather than censuring.

Book Covers

A secular age

Over the weekend, I found a used, hardbound copy of Charles Taylor’s The Secular Age for twenty percent of its retail price. Needless to say I was pleased. I did encounter an interesting anomaly, though. The dust jacket is designed to cover the bottom three quarters of the book leaving the top, on which Charles Taylor’s name is embossed, uncovered on the front and spine. Needless to say, it further piqued my curiosity about a book that has long been on my “want” list.

It has been said that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” which is quite true. I’ve read truly important books with prosaic covers and dull or unsubstantial books with attractive ones. But one thing can be said about book cover design–it is meant to get the reader to pick up the book and at least consider buying it (or read an online preview). I think one of the delights of a physical bookstore is the visual delight we gain just browsing the covers of books.

My wife and I are fans of the British comedy, As Time Goes By. The leading male character, Lionel Hardcastle, is an aspiring author who manages to get his memoir, My Life in Kenya, published. He is alarmed when he becomes the subject of a photo shoot for the cover dressed in khakis and bush hat with a rifle in arm and a scantily clad woman clinging to his leg. His publisher, Alistair, tells him that all this has one object–to visually say “pick me up and buy me.”

That worked like a charm for me as an young teenager picking up copies of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Yes, you guessed it–Bond in some exotic setting surrounded with buxom women in bikinis. At least it worked until my dad found my stash of Bond paperbacks and tossed them.

My first edition of Lord of the Rings was the Ballantine Books paperbacks published in the 1970’s with artwork that formed a triptych. I’d heard from my friends that this was an incredible adventure fantasy, and the cover art suggested the same thing.

lotr

I am a fan of the work of David McCullough, and one of the things I have found is that the cover art on his books always represents what I will find within the pages, something I think should be a criterion. Here is his cover for The Greater Journey, about Americans who lived in Paris during the nineteenth century.

the-greater-journey

Last fall, while recovering from foot surgery, I re-read Anna Karenina in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. It is a great translation of this sprawling Tolstoy work centered around Anna’s illicit love affair. While I didn’t buy the book because of the cover (I had heard great things about the translation–really!), the cover leaves no doubt about the sexual undercurrent of the book, without being distasteful.

anna-karenina

Over the years I’ve admired the cover art on a number of books published by InterVarsity Press (I will acknowledge that I work for the parent organization with which this publisher is associated). I do know that this reflects an intentional effort as expressed in their statement of values where they state “Aiming for thoughtful integration of the whole person and placing emphasis on the dignity of people and relationships, IVP practices beauty and stewardship in our work.”

One of their books that caught my attention over forty years ago, not only for its astute cultural analysis, but also for the graphic design of its cover was The Dust of Death by Os Guinness, which included a work of contemporary art against a white background with the title and author in a very clean font. Here it is:

Dust of Death

That tradition of aesthetically striking design combined with content has been carried on down to the present. Here is the cover of a publication I recently reviewedOur Deepest Desires:

Our Deepest Desires

I realize this is quite subjective and others may choose different, and surely better examples, but the covers of books, much like LP album covers, are a part of the reading experience. We encounter books primarily through our eyes (although touch and even smell are also part of it with physical books, and sound with audiobooks). I have to confess that some books I’ve kept not only because of content, but for how they appear on my shelves.

I’ve just scratched the surface and would love to hear about and see book covers that you love, and the role book covers play in your own reading experience.

Review: Encountering God through Expository Preaching

Encountering God through Expository Preaching

Encountering God through Expository PreachingJim Scott Orrick, Brian Payne, Ryan Fullerton. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2017.

Summary: An argument for expository preaching as the means by which the people of God encounter the living God through the word of God, and an explication of the practices in preparation that lead to this in experience through the preached word.

The authors of this book both define what preaching is and set out their purpose in an opening statement in answer to the question, “what is preaching.” They respond:

“Preaching occurs when a holy man of God opens the Word of God and says to the people of God, ‘Come and experience God with me in this text.’ Encountering God through Expository Preaching is an explanation of this sentence.”

This book accomplishes what it promises and more. It sets forth the high calling, privilege, and sheer joy of preaching. The writers begin with the “holy man” and assert that godly character, and particularly that one is progressing in one’s own growth is critical to preaching that leads people to experience God. Giftedness is not enough, and often will result both in the cult of the preacher, and disappointment.

Then they turn to the defense of expository preaching, and particularly expository preaching that gives careful attention to the context of the text within the passage, the book, and ultimately the whole Bible. Particular emphasis is given to situating the text within God’s unfolding covenant purposes. This is not mere verse by verse explanation but canonical and biblical theological exposition, where the themes of scripture and the whole of scripture shape the treatment of a particular passage. While preference is given to preaching through books of scripture, they allow that topical preaching is both warranted by scripture itself, and that it may be done expositorily.

The authors conclude the first part with three chapters on the importance of the Holy Spirit in preaching that invites people to experience God. Careful exegesis and good homiletic practice are insufficient to transform our listeners. The Holy Spirit illumines both us and those who hear the Word preached. He emboldens the preacher, particularly in the face of opposing powers, he lights us up, fills us with love and gives us words. Finally, we constantly rely on Him through relying upon His Word, upon the Lord’s gospel, upon God in prayer, and upon the prayers of our people.

They then focus on early preparation. What I found is that this did not concern exegetical practice or turning exegetical outlines into preaching outlines, as so many similar texts do. To some degree they already addressed this in the chapters on context, and will in broad outline in the following chapters. But they begin by focusing on the importance of delivery, and also the reading of the preaching text–itself a form of preaching when done well. One of the most trenchant observations made here is that good teachers are able to anticipate how their words sound in the ears of their hearers.

The next three chapters are built around a little rhyme suggesting four questions each sermon must answer:

How does it fit?

What does it say?

How is it built?

Why does it stay?

“How does it fit?” answers the question of how the text fits into the overall context of the Bible. “What does it say?” focuses on what needs to be said about the message of this particular text to one’s audience. “How is it built?” looks at the way a passage develops its main idea. “Why does it stay?” is about why this passage has lasting relevance and how it may be relevant in the lives of the preacher and the hearers.

The final three chapters weigh the respective advantages and disadvantages of preaching from a manuscript, preaching from an outline, and preaching without notes. While a manuscript provides for precision of utterance, and avoids rabbit trails, and an outline helps with remembering what one wishes to say, the writers come down preferring the practice of preaching without notes. They favor this both in terms of what it requires of the preacher in terms of personal holiness, an outline based on the text, a simple and memorable outline, and reliance on the Holy Spirit. It also allows for better communication with and engagement with one’s audience, including more eye contact, and more natural movement and vocal variety.

What this book does is de-emphasize some of the more technical aspects of sermon preparation to focus on the spirituality of preaching–the character of the preacher, one’s own encounter with God in the text through the ministry of the Spirit, and reliance upon the Spirit in both preparation and proclamation.

While there is much of worth for anyone who aspires to preach, it should be noted that a premise of this book is that the office of preacher is limited to men–evident in references to “a holy man, ” and in the argument for preaching without notes that “it encourages masculinity” and that “for preaching to be effective, the preacher must be a masculine man” (p. 200).

While I do not agree with this premise, I found much of worth in this book, and particularly the strong argument for expository preaching, that this is really to expose God’s word under the power of God’s Spirit, so that the people of God may experience, worship, and obey the living God. It has been my joy to experience the living God under the expository  preaching of both holy men and women of God, and I can’t imagine why those charged with preaching the Word of God would want anything less or else.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.